Thursday, December 10, 2015


I've been going on about ephemera, so I feel like it's time to circle back.

My main thrust here has been to point out that the primary trunk, as it were, of photography, as well as many of the limbs, are really about ephemera. There's a lot of photography being done which isn't intended to live on for more than a few hours, a few weeks. We cannot simply dismiss this, for a couple of reasons:
  • Numerically, the vast majority of pictures that are taken are ephemeral, mostly by design, sometimes not. Ephemera is dominant.
  • This is the world in which we live. Our customers, our friends, our critics, they all live in a world in which almost all photos are ephemera.
This doesn't mean that we're forced to shoot ephemera. I don't. I don't shoot for future generations either, but I don't intend my pictures to evaporate next week, either. You are perfectly welcome to shoot for future generations. You can shoot for past generations, for all I care, waiting on the invention of time travel.

Still, if you want people to understand your work, you do need to make the point that you're doing something different. Making hard copies of some sort, prints, books, scrolls, or billboards, is a big hint on this point. Prints don't generally evaporate in a week, after all. This is probably not the only way.

Kirk Tuck makes gorgeous portraits. Instagramming these and turning these into personal marketing materials for social media would be a crime. To my eye, though, even in digital online form, these portraits are already visibly something different. I'm a pretty sophisticated looker-at-photographs, to be fair, but to me eye these things are loaded to the brim with cues that these are something different, something timeless, something lasting.

My point, at any rate, is that the world of ephemeral photographs is real, it is here. While it is not everything, you ignore it at your peril. It might pay you to give a moment of thought to embracing it. It might be an interesting path forward.

1 comment:

  1. I don't have very well fleshed-out ideas here, and you've already written three posts on the subject so I'm certainly just paraphrasing points you've already made, but I wanted to clarify my own thoughts on it, and someone else's blog is a fantastic place to do so!

    As you've already covered, Instagram/etc. are simply basic human communication (chatter, flirting, phonecalls, you name it), but this form in particular currently benefits from the entrenched cultural concept of Serious Photography (a concept that contains both being difficult, and being arty), in much the same way that having a poshed-up British accent will make a wide swath of Americans think you're sophisticated or snooty. At the moment, people using these apps/ephemera are leveraging this cultural concept with varying degrees of success and varying levels of awareness; it's like a form of privilege you can bizarrely choose to step into with zero experience and one now-ubiquitous tool, and it's obvious why this annoys (easily offended) people who style themselves as Serious Art Photographers.

    But, the strength of the human brain's wiring for visual processing suggests to me that as many people as not are likely to be easily fluent in the composition of quick visual messages - it may not be art, but it's going to have an almost subconscious-level meaning and be capable of causing an immediate, intense viewer reaction. I now have the choice of calling you up and saying 'B and I are having a wonderful time sipping our coffee here in foggy SF,' or taking an equivalent picture - which one is going to have more layers and evoke more emotion?

    So: at the same time that we're leveraging it, we're also diluting the concept that Photography is Hard, You Must Be a Wizard. We'll eventually (mostly) separate the ideas of 'someone who is good at communicating simple, but nonetheless powerful emotions and ideas via image' from the idea of 'Serious Art Photography', or at least begin to understand how to put them on a spectrum, much the same way we grasp that sending a 'howareya' email is not the same as being a poet laureate. Nonetheless, people who enjoy deriving their identity as Serious Photographer from the concept that Photography is Hard [etc] get to evolve a bit, but can take some comfort at least from the fact that being a sufficiently advanced craftsman is commonly indistinguishable from art, and deserving of respect.

    However, the genie's out of the bottle, and like you've said, there's room for much more in this form of expression than has existed in the past. Is ephemera Serious Art? Almost entirely not, at the moment. Can it be? What does that look like? How does one get there with the tools people are using in this medium? What do the next stages of evolution look like?